Teed off by Trump? Why protests to move the US Women's Open miss the mark

Anya Alvarez
Brittany Lang brought home $810,000 for winning last year’s US Women’s Open, the lion’s share of the sport’s largest purse. Photograph: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

A few years ago, when the United States Golf Association announced that it would hold the US Women’s Open at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, it was business as usual.

Except no one anticipated that Donald Trump, who built Trump National just 13 years ago, would be president of the United States. Nor did anyone at the USGA forecast that Trump’s infamous “grab [women] by the pussy” tape would make international headlines. And really, how could they?

When that tape surfaced, people immediately denounced the USGA, asking them to move the US Women’s Open to a different course. This led to calls for the Ladies Professional Golf Association to get involved, asking players and the LPGA itself to boycott the US Open and demand a change of venue.

With the US Women’s Open less than four months away, UltraViolet, a US-based women’s advocacy group, has gathered over 100,000 signatures for their petition to move the tournament, writing: “The USGA and LPGA need to send a clear signal to young golfers, including women, people of color and people with disabilities that it stands for inclusiveness, and move the upcoming US Women’s Open from Trump National Golf Course.”

Most recently, UltraViolet held a protest at the LPGA Founders Cup last week, handing out golf balls that said with the imprint, “LPGA: Dump Trump.”

So why aren’t the protests working?

The protests are futile and here’s why: UltraViolet and its protesters seem to be unaware of the fact the USGA and the LPGA are do not function under the same umbrella. Specifically, the LPGA serves a different function than the USGA. The protesters are going after the wrong people.

Each organization has its own governing body that makes decisions with respect to to the US Women’s Open, just because you play on the LPGA does not mean you automatically get into the US Open. For instance, just under 100 players with status on the LPGA are exempt to play in the US Open without having to compete in a sectional qualifier, leaving about 60 spots open for non-LPGA members.

Those qualifiers are open to any woman or girl who dreams of playing in the US Open, like Lucy Li, who played in the US Open at 11 years old in 2015.

So targeting the LPGA and its players within the organization is a waste of protesters’ time. Why target players who may not even qualify for the US Open, or better yet the LPGA who had no decision making power in where the tournament was held?

In response to the protests, the LPGA released this statement: “Regarding the US Women’s Open, the USGA – not the LPGA – owns and operates the event and we are delighted to have so many of our LPGA members qualify to participate each year. When it comes to decisions regarding venue, purse, TV, etc, those are solely made by the USGA.”

So as protesters troll LPGA players online and disrupt LPGA tournaments, what they need to be doing is targeting all female golfers who have signed up for the sectional qualifiers taking place in May and June. In 2015, over 1,800 women signed up to play in the US Open sectionals qualifiers, so it looks like they’ll need to enlist more protesters.

Do the protesters understand how golf tournaments work?

Perhaps not all of them do. Moving a major championship to a different golf course is not as easy as finding another restaurant to eat at simply because all the tables are reserved. Putting on a major tournament takes time and a lot of people power. This year, almost 2,500 people will have volunteered to help host the US Women’s Open. The USGA is a non-profit organization, so their reliance on people who are flying in from all over the world who have made prior arrangements to help the golfers have a great US Open, is crucial.

Moving a venue would mean losing many of those volunteers, and perhaps having to reimburse them for their plane tickets. It would also mean finding another golf course that meets the standards of holding a major championship. It takes months to prepare a course for a major and involves a lot more than just watering the greens. Play at the host club is limited. Often areas are renovated to host the major at the cost of the club, and getting the putting greens ready takes more dedication and time than outsiders realize.

Moving the tournament could result in 1) not having enough volunteers and 2) a new venue not up to major championship quality.

Who would be most affected if sponsors pulled out of US Open?

While UltraViolet is claiming that they’re doing this for the greater good of women, they would actually hurt women in the process should sponsors pull out of the US Open. The tournament is the largest purse of the year for women’s golf, at $5m. For the athletes, the winnings could change their lives.

Here’s why.

Players on the LPGA don’t make a lot of money unless they finish top 40 on the money list for the year. The breakdown of costs to play golf professionally is as follows:

  • Tournament entry fees: $250 to enter an LPGA event x 30 events a year = $7,500 annually
  • Paying a caddie weekly fee: $1,500 x 30 events a year = $45,000 annually
  • Average flights: $700 x 30 events a year = $21,000 annually
  • Hotel: $100 per night for a week-long event x 30 events a year = $21,000
  • Total: $94,500

This does not include the cost of paying for instructors, trainers, golf course membership fees, food during the week of travel, and also being able to afford to pay your rent or mortgage back home.

The vast majority of players on the LPGA do not have lucrative sponsorship deals, nor do they have their expenses covered by a team like players in the NBA or NFL. They are independent contractors whose living is based on performance. So if some of these players have a good week at the US Open, it could mean earning enough money to play the following year.

If sponsors were to boycott the US Open, the women on tour who work extremely hard to earn their way into the tournament would essentially be punished for something they have no power over.

So the fault is with the protestors then?

Not at all. Golf most certainly has a long way to go in supporting female players. I’ve written about this issue in the past, and I anticipate that I will have to continue writing about it in the future. Male-only golf clubs still exist, women golfers continue to receive barely a fraction of coverage in the media, and female golfers earn just under a third of what their male counterparts make.

What golf needs to focus on a whole is how to engage women and make sure they are properly represented in positions of power.

In all honesty, the USGA could have said and done more to decry Trump. The USGA could have said, “Hey, we don’t like what Donald Trump said in the very least, but we are begrudgingly contractually obligated to hold the US Open at his course, or we will lose millions of dollars and could face a major lawsuit.”

The USGA and the LPGA could have come together and proposed to hold a forum at the US Open to discuss what their future plans for women’s golf are to help grow the game with women, to make women feel more included, to help close the pay gap, and to help fight sexist attitudes in the sport.

Had the USGA and LPGA been more proactive in finding a way to engage people who had concerns with the US Open being held at Trump’s course, they could have shown that they are interested in a better future for women overall, rather than releasing standard PR statements that are surface level at best.

Lastly, what is the dream scenario for the US Women’s Open this year?

The best thing that could happen at this point would be for an ultra-feminist golfer to win the US Open this year, and while accepting her trophy and giving her speech, she says, “As a feminist, this is a great moment in my life. And to Donald Trump, despite your attitudes towards women, despite thinking we’re just objects merely to be ogled and degraded when we don’t agree with you, I hope that I can use my platform as a US Open winner to elevate and lift women up, and encourage them to fight the patriarchy.”

Then Donald Trump will no doubt tweet: “This so-called golfer is overrated, and on her best day is not even a 7. SAD!”

Nothing would get under Trump’s skin more than a woman using her major championship win at his golf course to speak out against him.

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